“F*** white people. (Neighborhood) Crips.”
But — I don’t think any “gang” member actually wrote it.
The writing was just a little off, and a little too on the nose — it wasn’t tagged or in a certain style. It was just straightforward, in chalk, not necessarily the instrument of choice for a long-lasting message.
It was probably a kid.
Still. The sentiment remains. The kid believes it and heard it from somewhere.
My family and I moved across town, so I’m not “new”, but I’m new to this particular neighborhood. I moved from a very ethnically diverse neighborhood (60+ languages at the local high school) to a primarily African-American neighborhood.
Well, it used to be that way. I’m white. I’m gentrifying it.
This is the way it’s happening: there are blocks with square one-story brick houses with nice, reasonable yards next to new, two or three-story, deep rectangular houses, built in the latest modern-Dwell style. Here in Nashville, they dump two (or maybe even four!) onto one lot, split the yard in a billion pieces and quadruple the price. The lots are tiny. The houses are beautiful. This is legal, because builders ru(i)n the South. They’re called tall and skinnies.
I’m familiar with it because my old house…
… was one of those smaller houses on a nice size lot. As a person who grew up on two acres of land and has mowed grass for most of his life, I know what comes with it. Raking leaves. Mowing. Trimming. Pulling weeds. And at this stage in my life, with two young kids and a job, there are other things I’d rather be doing. I don’t find the yard maintenance life a joy; it’s a chore. That neighborhood (Woodbine!) is just starting to blow up.
I’m familiar with it because…
…my new house is what’s wrong with the world, maybe. It’s a new build, a tall and skinny with no lot, actually, more like a townhouse (which I’ve always wanted). The lot was abandoned (I think) and a builder scooped it up.
Am I part of the problem? Or part of the solution? Is there a way to be part of both?
Okay, I wrote the stuff above about 2 years ago.
I’ve been in my “new” house for a year. I never published the thought above because I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I really wanted an answer to those questions — am I part of the problem? Or am I part of the solution?
Here are some more thoughts after a year:
- The neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying, faster than I thought. I went to a few neighborhood meetings and realized that most of the people attending were like me — they’d only been in the neighborhood for a year or so. This way different than my previous neighborhood. I should’ve expected it, but still — it freaked me out.
- I live next door to a large church that has mostly black attendees. I’ve attended a few of their events, even though I go to church somewhere else. The people were very polite, but not many people were interested in a conversation. It turns out from the few people that we did talk to, they weren’t in the neighborhood either. They drove in from somewhere else as well. Their community was the church, not the neighborhood.
- However…I contracted with a person who goes to that church to cut my grass. He’s a retired man who is doing it for extra income. And because he cuts the church’s lawn, he can cut my group of townhomes as well. It’s not his full-time job, but he agreed to do it.
- It takes more than me to form a relationship. You know what, I’m not the most outgoing person and I could pursue relationships in my neighborhood with black residents with more fervor. But to be honest, no one is pursuing a relationship with me either. I talk to our immediate neighbors, but they are essentially like me…
- Community is hard, no matter your background or race. Everyone is busy and we all get in ruts and you have to have some type of overlap or passed shared experiences to make good friends. And that’s hard. Even if you have one good conversation with a person in the park, you’re not sure the next time they’ll come. Yeah, there could be some cultural elements here to how people perceive community, relationships or family…but most people aren’t really looking for friends. They have their groups, their people. The people who are looking for community tend to be the people that just moved somewhere…which takes me back to #1.
A few weeks ago, I was in the park with my kids and three black teenage boys ran by, playing. They were in middle school or just starting high school; I didn’t think much of it — there are kids in the park all the time. It has a community center with afterschool programs and football and softball. I like hanging out there and having my kids play there, even though my kids are much younger.
As I was pushing the stroller back down the hill towards my house, a string of 5 cop cars came by. “Did you see any teenagers running in the park, like they were running away from something?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Can you describe them?”
“I saw three African-American kids in sweatshirts and hoodies. One had a camouflage hoodie,” I said.
“Okay, thanks,” he said. “That’s who we’re looking for.”
I don’t know if those kids wrote “F-white people” on the sidewalk. Or maybe one of them did, the others didn’t know about it. Or maybe they have written that somewhere else, just not on the sidewalk. Or maybe they didn’t know about it all — which is probably the case.
There was a group of five to ten people down the street who were black, and they were talking on the road. They were laughing and joking about staying in a group when the police came. But they were fine with the cops and the cops were fine with them. That’s not who the cops were looking for. I was wearing a hoodie, but I wasn’t who the cops were looking for either.
None of us bystanders were the problem or the solution. We were just minding our own business, for better or for worse.